Month: March 2020

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: The weekly shop

Boxes of fruit and vegetables

Our fruit and veg delivery which arrived yesterday, Thursday 26th March,

Wednesday 25th March, I’m scraping the barrel on the food front here. I’m down to four fishfingers and a packet of frozen peas in the freezer, a fennel and two veggie patties in the fridge, a packet of red lentils soaking to make lentil soup this evening and 5 oranges.

As we’re not leaving the apartment, even to go to the supermarket, I tried doing an online Carrefour delivery last weekend. I was in the virtual queue on Saturday evening from 8:30 pm to 02:30 am at which point I absentmindedly folded my laptop and lost my place. I tried again on Sunday at 9:00 am. By 2:30 pm I could start putting things into my basket, but each item was taking so long to load I gave up at 4:30 pm. I just hope the Esselunga order I managed to put through on the 16th March arrives. It was supposed to arrive on the 31st, but it’s been put back until the 4th April.

Some people are still physically going to the supermarket though. This morning, for example, one of my students told me how he queued up outside for an hour and then once he reached the entrance, someone took his temperature before letting him in. He lives with his wife and three kids outside Milan. We spoke about stocking up, but as he says, there’s only so much stocking up you can do when your entire family is at home and everyone’s eating at least two meals a day.

In the meantime, and like many people I know, I’ve joined a whatsapp fruit and veg group organised by Rino a local fruttivendolo (fruit and veg seller). As I write, (it’s now Thurs 26th), I’m waiting for a delivery from him that was meant to arrive yesterday. I called earlier this morning and he assured me that, “it will arrive soon”. It’s now coming up to lunchtime. I’m scrolling through the group messages; one member, also waiting for their delivery, is asking if other people have received theirs. Some are still waiting but one person wrote, “ours has arrived”.

“Great, they’ve lied to me” the person waiting tagged onto the message. “I was told their van broke down which is why they weren’t able to deliver to my area. They told me they’d deliver first thing this morning, but I haven’t seen or heard from anyone as yet. I understand it’s hard, but why lie?”. 12:25 PM.

Rino’s reply, “We had three vans delivering yesterday and your delivery wasn’t in the same van as your neighbour’s. Deliveries have been going on since this morning, I’m sure yours, which unfortunately wasn’t the only one not delivered yesterday, will arrive soon. I’m sorry to have worried you, but we definitely don’t need to lie – it’s not the way we do business and it’s very unprofessional. Apologies again for yesterday, we are working on resolving these inconveniences.” 12:34 PM

13:22 client: Arrivate, grazie (arrived thanks)

13:23 Rino: 🙏🏻

13:24 client: I understand, sorry, mi era montato il nervoso (I was on tenterhooks).

13:29 Rino: Immagino (I understand) 😂😂

I’m waiting full of hope and nervous excitement, like when I was a little girl waiting for my play date to arrive, but this time it’s for apples, spinach and bananas.

While my fingers are crossed for the 4th April, I’ve had to find another option to cover the next nine days. I’ve gone for Mani’s, the kosher shop and just put in a huge order. I can’t wait for it to arrive. It’s all going to be kosher for Passover with kosher for Passover prices but I’m not complaining – he delivers, although when is the next question.

Still Thurs 26th. At 2:30 pm I was just finishing a Skype lesson when the intercom buzzed. “I have to go,” I said to my student hurriedly, “It’s my fruit and veg delivery”. I quickly grabbed my mask, latex gloves and debit card and waited at the front door. The delivery guy appeared also wearing a mask, much more hardcore than mine, and placed two big boxes on our doorstep. I inserted my card into the card reader (thinking of how many other people had touched it that day), and then quickly picked up the boxes and carried then through the kitchen, placing them on the balcony where they will remain for 3 days untouched – this is what is advised to ensure that if there is any Coronavirus germs, they will die within this time frame. Once I’d done that, I ran to the bathroom and washed my hands and debit card with alcohol.

“Siamo riuscite!” (We did it!) said N waving her arms in the air and we both started dancing and shouting for joy, and I’m not just saying that – I really did feel joy!

Friday 27th March. This morning I took a banana out of the box on the balcony and had it for breakfast. I also asked N if she had any idea when Mani will be delivering our order. She said she called him earlier and he screamed down the phone at her. She thinks it’s going to be some day next week, early next week I’m hoping, but I’ll have to think of another way round this over the weekend. If you’d told me four weeks ago that my weekly shop was going to be like this, I would have said you were bananas, but as you can see, buying bananas has taken on a whole new bent.

Online Carrefour food delivery

Waiting online, in line on the Carrefour supermarket website last weekend.

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Smart working and cabin fever

I haven’t left the apartment since Tuesday 10th March, that’s one week today. N (my flatmate) has been in longer, poor love. Cabin fever – it comes in waves, then goes. Last Friday morning was the worst to date, but there’s lots of balconies in the apartment so for that I’m thankful. Balcony flash mobs are brilliant, they defo add a touch of solidarity and reassurance, reassurance that we’re not alone in this completely unexpected, life-changing experience.

That said, the week flew by. Like most people here, I’ve started “smart working”. On Wednesday I gave my first online classes “at” Liceo musicale G. Verdi high school, using Weschool and Zoom. One class (5A) was on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I spoke about it for 45 minutes even though I’ve never read the entire novel in one straight go. I read the first 50 odd pages in my late teens, then a couple of 100 pages in my 20s and so on. I’m not even sure I’ve actually read the whole book, but still, it’s one of my favorites of all time.

This Wednesday I’ll be talking about Molly’s inner monologue to the same class, “my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes”.

Bloom was schmoozing her too of course, getting round her. When was the last time I schmoozed and was schmoozed? Not with any of my Tinder dates, that’s for sure.

On Thursday I had four privates, two guys and two women, all via Skype. They were quite good but the last guy was lamenting his fate with the English language. “If you want to be a rocket scientist, you need to study,” I pointed out, “so why do you think you should somehow automatically be able to speak excellent English without studying it?” “Because we didn’t have to ‘learn’ our native language,” he replied. I feel the same about learning Italian – as much as I want to be fluent right here, right now, each new word, new colloquial phrase, new idiom is a conscious addition. I wish it wasn’t, I wish they would just all roll off the tip of my tongue, but it takes effort and commitment.

The weekend rolled in and rolled out. What did I do? Watched Netflix, the news, did my exercise routine, cooked and on Sunday I got an online supermarket order through. It took me two hours of non-stop, steel-determination clicking, clicking, clicking. I kept getting messages saying your bill can’t be calculated right now due to this item or that item. I just deleted the item and tried to replace it – at least for the first 20 goes – then I ignored the message and kept clicking anyway. Eventually, at 2:00 AM I got the “procedere” (proceed) screen – joy. It’s arriving on the 31st March – the first available delivery date.

While my students seem to be getting on fine – they are all with their families, and everyone I speak to online is hanging in there, and on the whole, so am I and N, pent up tension comes to the surface every now and then. In fact I had a little bit of an outburst with N this morning about picking up some ‘Kosher for Passover’ groceries. She’s very observant and it’s very important to her. She put in an order at the kosher shop and she wanted me to go and collect it which was no bother at all but I needed an autocertificazione, a form you must carry with you when you go outside stating why you are outside and that you don’t have the Coronavirus. I thought she wanted me to go there and then, and I didn’t have the form ready. Turns out the order won’t be ready for another couple of days and I’ve now completed and downloaded the form to my phone so we’re all set.

Meanwhile I’ve just spoken to J, “How are you?” I asked, “I’m stressed” he said and painted a very bleak picture of the next twelve months. “I’ve asked my aunt if I can have her house in Bologna, I’m going there with a few friends and I’m going to get loads of supplies in.”

“Can I come?”

“Only if I can make love to you every day.”

“OK,” I replied, and then, feeling a little excited, read him the quote above.

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Balconies and Social Networks

iorestoacasa a Milano, Azzuro di adriano celentano

Singing and pretending to play the guitar at 18:00 this evening on the balcony!

I’ve just come off the balcony, there was a 12 noon flash mob of everyone clapping in honour and gratitude for the nurses and doctors here and rightly so, what incredible people they are. And yesterday, there was a balcony flash mob of people singing and playing instruments. Lots of videos have been posted on FB – absolutely brilliant. Where I am, there was a few of us out and one woman, a professional singer and music teacher, led the way with “We are the world”. I joined in, while N, not knowing the words, did her bit with a few bars from Vincerò. Today, at 18:00 there’s another national balcony gathering, this time with the song Azzuro by Adriano Celentano – even if you’re not Italian, you’ll probably know it when you hear it. Here’s the lyrics if you want to join in.

FB is another life line. Among other groups, I’m a member of IWM (International Women of Milan). There’s already been one virtual aperitivo (last night, I missed it unfortunately, but looking forward to the next one) and people, out of bordem, compassion, ingenuity or a little of all three, are networking, advertising or offering their services for free, or posting really important info such as Giving Birth in the Time of Corona Virus – Wow.

Then on (Gambara) there’s been quite a few posts about supermarkets and how people are behaving at the supermarket. One person just posted how they went to Carrefour on Via Soderini this morning at 11:30 – there was no queue (they must have hit it just at the right time) but after 10 minutes the fruit and veg department was thronged with crowds and many elderly people not wearing masks! The poster was so annoyed they asked to speak to the manager and threatened to call the police – shoppers should be staggered, let in a few at a time. “Proper order” said someone else, “I’d do the same”. Meanwhile, a new post confirms that the nurses and doctors at ospedale San Carlo heard the clapping at 12 noon today.

Balconies and social networks will get us through this. 

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: My last ice cream before the lock down

Friday afternoon, 6th March, I gave in to temptation and had a big, dirty ice cream on Via Marghera. I was on my way home from meeting IG for a coffee and a stroll; the sun was shining and a Friday afternoon vibe was in the air. I hadn’t had an ice cream for ages, it was yummy, but I knew I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.

Someone else on (Gambara) had the same idea, “I was thinking today of how to give myself a treat during this difficult time”, (“Oggi pensavo a come gratificarmi in un momento così delicato…”) she wrote and asked if anyone else fancied an ice cream at Gelateria Gambara on Via Palma. Yep, at least four or five people showed interest, so the poster suggested 15:30 today, Sunday 8th March. I was up for it too – it would’ve been nice to meet some new faces from the hood and have another ice cream. I say “would have been” because, 1. she then called the whole thing off, leaving this link to a speech by the Lombardy welfare councillor Giulio Gallera urging everyone to not go out in groups and to stay at home – “it’s fundamental if we want to beat this Coronavirus,” and 2. because Milan, (along with the extended red zone area) has been locked down. News of this unprecedented decree was leaked to the press last night and officially signed off by the government in the wee hours this morning.

What exactly does this mean? Firstly, 16 million people, that’s one quarter of the Italian population, are blocked from moving in or out of the area in question unless it’s absolutely necessary. The news has already triggered a mass exodus from Milan – I’m not sure how many people have already left – but RAI News 24 reported that Milano Centrale and Porta Garibaldi, two of Milan’s main train stations, were thronged with people leaving last night. Students, I suppose or people who have family or second homes in other parts of Italy. The train stations remain open today – I wonder for how long though? And airports are still open but I’m not sure what the story is there – the Ente Nazionale Aviazione Civile (The National Aviation Authority) has said flights are the responsibility  of airlines, but I just heard now (I’m listening to RAI News 24 on the lapper as I write) that Alitalia will suspend all flights to Malpensa airport from tomorrow.

Secondly, all schools, universities, cultural institutions and any place where people congregate will remain closed until the 3rd April. Churches have also closed, funerals and weddings have been suspended and bars and restaurants can stay open but only between 06:00 – 18:00, but you must keep a metre distrance from anyone else.

I was at Lidl this morning, doing a bit of a stock-up – tinned goods and frozen veg – just in case. N’s daughter kindly picked us up in the car.  There was a guard on the door and people were only allowed in a few at a time. When I went to pay, I asked a woman if she was in the queue and she said, yes, and reminded me of the rule about keeping at least one 1 metre distance.

Right now, I’m watching the TV programme “Soliti ignoti” with N – there’s no live audience as there usually is and the presenter, Amadeus, reminds us to wash our hands, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, sneeze into a hanky or if you don’t have a hanky, into your elbow and avoid crowds. The message is getting broadcasted LOUD and CLEAR. It’s like the country has launched a military operation called “Defeat Coronavirus”.

After the initial Coronavirus press explosion and my reaction to it (I was a little bit freaked out), I’d settled into the situation, meaning I was following all the advised precautions but I wasn’t actually FEELING worried or anxious. When I walked past the ice cream parlour on Friday afternoon, I knew it would probably be better to keep walking, but, as I said, the sun was shining, it was Friday afternoon and there were lots of people out and about, not to mention standing in front of me and behind me in the queue, so I gave into temptation. It’s not that much of a big deal, I know, but I also know I won’t be going for an ice cream anytime soon.

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Wednesday 4th March: Game Changer


L'Amore ai tempi del Co...vid-19 by street artist Tvboy

L’Amore ai tempi del Co…vid-19 by street artist Tvboy featured in Saturday’s Corriere della Sera. The original “Bacio” (The Kiss) by Francesco Hayez is in the Pinacoteca di Brera here in Milan.

Postponed, Juventus v’s Milan in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, scheduled to take place today.

The decision was taken as a precautionary measure, in line with the latest “nuove decreti” (new regulations) for combatting the spread of Covid-19. Here’s the latest regulations which were publicized yesterday:

  1. Keep a distance of at least 1 metre between you and another person
  2. Do not kiss, hug or shake hands when greeting or saying goodbye
  3. Stay away from crowded places
  4. Stay indoors if you have a low fever, even if you have no signs of having contracted the virus
  5. Stay at home if you’re over 75 years of age, or 65 years of age if you are unwell.

That’s not all the scary news. Schools have been ordered to stay shut until the 15th March!  That’s a good chunk of my monthly income for March wiped out. This is serious stuff. I enjoyed the unexpected week off last week, but this is a game changer.

Caffé macchiato con un ciocolato

Caffé macchiato and a sweet treat on Via Lorenteggio, Milan

Thank God for the internet. I’m going to need to get creative and techy about this to get through it financially. Necessity is the mother of invention. I can give Skype lessons, translate (thankfully the situation doesn’t drastically effect translation work), become a professional poker player, write a best selling guide called “Safe Sex in the Time of Coronavirus” (if it hasn’t already been written), or “How to Have a Virtual Sex Life” – one couple who haven’t even read my (unwritten) book yet, have already got pregant.

There’s always opportunists ready to make a quick buck at any cost. Take for example, the online Coronavirus Shop (covered on the news this morning) where you could find masks, gloves, overalls, various kits etc all at “prezzi stratosferici” (crazy prices), but guaranteed to 100% protect you from becoming infected with the virus. Who knows how many people got ripped off? That’s not right.

“Pazienza,” says N.

One daily ritual I’m missing is a macchiato (an espresso with a drop of steamed milk) and a sweet treat – some days I have two, but since I’m not running around Milan giving lessons and meeting friends or going on dates, it hasn’t been part of my day. So yesterday I had one on Via Lorenteggio. There were people out and about, mums with buggys, people waiting at the bus stop and sitting in the café. Then I strolled down to Via Solari where lots of famous fashion brands have their showrooms. There were people on the street there too. I looked into a restaurant and there were a few people having lunch. And there were people in the supermarket, and groceries on the shelves. And I wasn’t the only person wearing latex gloves! (N and I have decided to wear latex gloves from the minute we go out and then take them off the second we get back by rolling them off our hands so they’re inside out, and we stick them in the bin like that).

It’s fine, it is, it’s just a bit surreal while at the same time, reality is beginning to set in.

Fendi showroom, via Solari, Milan

Fendi showroom, Via Solari, Milan

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Sunday 1st March: Seeing the funny side of it

One of the Art Detective’s favourite paintings is The Skater by Gilbert Stuart. He sees in it a man elegantly skating through life. Right now, life feels more like a Jackson Pollack painting – random – and you need a good sense of humour to appreciate it.

Italians have a good sense of humour, especially the Milanese and over the last couple of days there’s been a few things that have made me laugh, either because they were supposed to be funny (videos, jpgs) or because they were just random or a bit incongruous. There’s the video of four guys coughing, singing and spluttering the My Sharona song with different lyrics: “If I cough in public, I feel like a criminal – VIRUS CORONA, everyone says you have to wash your hands, hands, hands, Woooooh”. And the jpeg showing three different crowds of people: at a Queen concert at Wembley Stadium, at a Pink Floyd concert in Venice and the biggest crowd of all, people walking around Codogno in 2020! Codogno is the small town in Lombardy where the first person in Italy was identified with the Coronavirus.

Then yesterday I read a message on an FB group I’m in. Seemingly a notice had been put up in one of the large apartment blocks, not 100 miles from where I live, informing residents that two people living in the block had been “identified” as having the virus . Loads of comments followed like “why would you want to post such a message – it only makes people more nervous” or “thanks, it’s better to know” or “it’s not true”or “it’s only a flu virus”, and so on but the funny thing was, as others were quick to notice, the poster had wanted to say that the building was now in the process of being disinfected, however they had misspelled the word “sanificazione”by adding a “t” making it “santificazione”, so the building is in the process of being sanctified as opposed to sanitized. ‘Let’s pray!’ someone replied with a laughing emoji. Meanwhile, N had heard about it as well, “si avvicina”, (“it’s getting closer”) she said pragmatically. “It’s only a flu!” I replied laughing, but there was a little bit of nervous laugher in there as well.

Life goes on though and as arranged, I met IG at Pagano yesterday at midday. There she was with her long, black hair and her long legs and her “nothing ruffles my feathers” attitude. I put this attitude down to the fact that she’s from Belarus and she’s a vegan. Mind you, we didn’t hug or kiss, our usual form of greeting, and she wasn’t keen on going for a coffee either (being indoors in a bar – although I would have) but we did go to Coin on Via Vercelli to do a little shopping.

On the way back, I picked up a copy of the newspaper, Corriere della Sera and the Saturday magazine that accompanies it, IO Donna. I couldn’t wait to get home to read what Danda (Danda Santini, Editor-in-Chief of IO Donna) had to say about it all. Instead, I was a bit let down and had to laugh when I read about her trip to Finland. In fact, her Buona domenica this week is called, Sì, viaggiare! (Yes, travel!). But she’s right – why even bother mentioning it at all?

Last night I stayed in and read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “What, I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.” Pretending everything’s OK, I guess it can work for a while, but it made me sad, and I felt more vulnerable to life than I did before I started reading it.

Then I heard from A, with whom I had a tentative date for today (if not today, next Wednesday), but I cancelled today’s and maybe even next Wednesday’s as I was feeling so vulnerable. “Are you phased by the situation?” I texted, “Nah, not really,” he replied. “Best way to be,” I wrote back, “I’m a little bit younger than you so more foolish,” was his reply. I laughed. I’m looking forward to seeing him.